The Lure of Cheap Gear

If you can get where you’re going for less, well, then you can go farther. That’s usually the point of adventuring on the cheap.

And honestly, the flood of inexpensive products onto the U.S. market since the 1980s, has worked its way into the outdoor-gear segment, too. From tent stakes and utility line to hiking shoes and backpacks, you can find a deal on almost anything in big-box stores.

And sometimes it’s worth it. But other times it isn’t. Buyer beware.

However, with the rise of online retail, where deals on higher-quality products can save you money, I doubt the necessity of buying low-quality gear in cut-rate stores. Here’s a look at a couple of backpacks and how they’ve held up over the years.

Outdoor Products Gama backpack

OP Gama backpack

Specs: 8 pouches including main compartment; internal frame aluminum stay; plenty of loops, rings and attachment straps; water bladder compartment.

Average outing: 1-3 days

Retailer/price: Walmart, $49.97

Trail miles til first defect: ~20 miles; showed fabric wear after my first trip.

My rating: 4.5/10 – Good pack for a 3-day 30-miler in the summer when you’re packing light, but doesn’t afford enough room for added gear or longer trips. Material and construction is not durable enough for heavy use. Not waterproof.

External pocket blowout on the Gama.

Insights: I liked this pack on first try. Lots of external pockets, a dedicated space for my water bladder and it was only $50. However, I quickly found out this pack was far from perfect. When you fill the main compartment to its capacity, it reduces the space of the outside pockets. The material is a silky, ill-woven nylon that does not stand up to rocks and tree branches and the general wear and tear of the trail. Most of the seams hold up, with the exception of the outside pockets because of the previously mentioned spacial-sacrifice issue. One pocket completely blew out. I’m estimating I’ll have to repair this pack often and retire it after a few more trips. It costs too much for its lack of durability and estimated short longevity, but it would make a decent pack for a young beginner or the casual summer backpacker.

Texsport Piney Point multi-day backpacker

Texsport Piney Point backpack.

Specs: Unknown capacity in two large main compartments (top and bottom). Top flap external pocket with internal pocket. Adjustable accessory straps. No water compartment. No outside pockets. Internal frame, aluminum stays. Internal waterproofing liner.

Average outing: 1-5 days, depending on weight and size of gear. Decent space to pack climbing gear along with camping necessities.

Retailer/price: Unknown; As best I can tell, Texsport produced these in the early 1990s, but has gotten out of the long-haul backpacking products, according to their 2013 website.

Close-up of top flap strap repair.
Close-up of top flap strap repair.

Trail miles to first defect: ~80 miles; peeling of internal waterproofing, internal accessory pocket has a hole, stress rip at closure strap on the top flap, and a nylon seam ripped on the one shoulder strap.

My rating: 7/10; If this backpack wasn’t heavy, outdated and had better space management, I’d give it higher ratings. Otherwise, decent multi-day backpack with high-durability.

Close-up of shoulder strap repair.
Close-up of shoulder strap repair.

Insights: My father bought this backpack in the early 1990s to take on 30-mile Appalachian Trail hikes with my Boy Scout troop. It served that purpose well and he loaned it to me for my last winter hike. I went on to take it on a 12-mile backpack/climb trip in July and my first backpack with my own son on the Appalachian Trail. At this point, the pack is more sentimental value. It’s obsolete in its material technology and organizational logistics compared to today’s backpacks. But considering it cost me nothing, it’s helping to serve a purpose until I have the funds to buy a new pack. Defects were easily repaired with a needle and thread.

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